The Death of Phones, the birth of “And”

on June 24, 2014

I remember my first cell phone. It was a hand-me-down from my father and it looked like this:

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As many who had these early cell phones will remember, there was a liberating feeling in the ability to talk to any one, any time, any place. Mobile phones were liberating in an entirely new way. Smartphones didn’t exist at this point in time and as the cellular industry grew, it went on a run where the central value of the device was telephony. Those days are gone. The phone as an app is the popular way to think about the role of telephony on a mobile device.

Which brings us to today. While telephony still exists via an app on the mobile device, it is not the central reason for buying an iPhone or Android device in today’s world. What are consumers buying? This is where the taxonomy breaks down. They aren’t buying a phone and while we call it a “smart phone” the words are just labels. I do, however, feel it is interesting to think about what people are buying in a slightly different way.

When you sit down and really watch people use their smartphones what are they doing? They take pictures, watch movies, check in on Facebook or Twitter, read the news, play games, and more. So what if instead of buying a smartphone, consumers are buying cameras, mobile gaming consoles, portable TVs, newspapers, and whatever else the smartphone can turn into thanks to software? While this may seem obvious, I’m not sure it is obvious to consumers but is rather very subconscious. They may not realize cognitively they are shopping for a camera, a game console, a TV, etc., but they know they want those features and they want them to be great. I think Benedict Evans summed up my thinking on this in this very poignant tweet:

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Mobile is eating consumer electronics. The most personal device paired with diverse software allows it to eat as many use cases as the hardware and the software will allow. The death of the phone as the primary use case is the rise of the mobile camera + connected sharing app (Facebook or other), or the rise of the mass market mobile gaming console, or the rise of the portable TV.

This same thinking applies to tablets. What tasks the tablet absorbs are still being fleshed out but we are seeing it absorb the load from the PC, TV, magazines, books, and more. The use cases the tablet can take on is only limited by its hardware and software evolution.

What makes all this interesting to the point I started out with is, prior to smartphones, we bought a telephony device and that was it. Now consumers are buying this AND that, AND that, AND that, AND that all wrapped up in one product. As we look to how the landscape may evolve we simply need to figure out what the next AND will be.